Every new year, many people are tempted to try the newest fad diet to either help lose weight or enhance athletic performance or both. Many of these diets call to restrict certain food groups such as carbohydrates. While this may help with weight loss temporarily, if not monitored carefully, a low-carb diet can lead to decreased energy and athletic performance. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the body, and thus are important especially in an athlete’s diet. Once the body depletes its stores of carbohydrates, the body switches to use alternate fuels such as protein or fats.
Carbohydrates often get a bad name because they are often found in simple form in processed foods including refined sugars and white flour. These commonly are seen in cookies, sodas, pasta and white bread. These foods are generally not satisfying to the appetite and cause spikes in blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates, however, are digested more slowly, leaving you feeling fuller and having less effect on blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes (beans, lentils and peas).
Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of a daily calorie intake. For an individual on a 2000 calorie per day diet, that would mean 900 to 1300 calories in the form of carbohydrates. Rather than having these calories come from “empty sources” such as processed foods, carbohydrates should come from nutrient-dense foods that are naturally occurring. My favorite diet tip is to stay to the outside of the grocery store when I am food shopping. On the outside you will find the fresh produce, meats, and dairy. Most processed food is in the center aisles. Natural foods will provide a better fuel for the body, improving overall health and athletic performance.
Rather than limiting a certain food group, the best nutrition advice is to ensure that your diet has variety, balance and moderation. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods from all food groups will allow for the best result in the New Year and for many years to come.
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